Paul Nash

Wittenham Clumps


Oil paint and graphite on canvas
Support: 633 x 757 mm
frame: 710 x 835 x 55 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Paul Nash Trust 1986

Catalogue entry

Paul Nash 1889-1946

T04157 Wittenham Clumps c.1943-4

Oil and pencil on canvas 633 x 757 (24 1/8 x 29 3/4)
Not inscribed
Presented by the Trustees of the Paul Nash Trust 1986
Prov: Margaret Nash, the artist's widow, by whom bequeathed to the Trustees of the Paul Nash Trust 1960

Paul Nash did not finish this painting. He usually destroyed his preparatory work and no other unfinished paintings by him are known to exist (apart from some that he gave up and painted on the reverse).

The landscape and the clouds were sketched in pencil, both in outline and tone, but only the sky and middle ground were painted and they only in part. A diagonal pencil line from top left to bottom right seems to have been ruled across the canvas before it was drawn.

It is likely both from its subject and its appearance that the landscape was painted in 1943 or shortly later. The view is of the Wittenham Clumps in Oxfordshire and resembles a number of other paintings made by Nash in the last few years of his life. This clump of trees had a great significance for him, as described by Andrew Causey (Paul Nash, 1980, pp.28-30). Andrew Causey has written that the view is from the garden of Nash's friend Hilda Harrison (1896-1980), who lived at ‘Sandlands' on Boars Hill near Oxford, which Nash first visited in November 1942 (Causey 1980, pp.297 and 325). Several of the other paintings include a foreground of plants in the garden. Nash had already painted the Wittenham Clumps before 1914 but did not do so again - except as background for a few paintings in 1934-5 - until this late period. It is more likely that the painting was abandoned by Nash as unsatisfactory rather than left uncompleted at his death, since the paintings it is most like are of 1942-4 (‘Sunflower and Sun', 1942, repr. Causey 1980, p.322; ‘Landscape of the Vernal Equinox', 1943, repr. ibid., p.331; ‘Landscape of the Moon's Last Phase', 1944, repr. ibid., p.333). The curved shape in the centre of the sky is too large for the sun or moon and too precise for a cloud, and it is likely to be the beginning of what Nash called ‘Aerial Flowers' in an essay published in 1944 (Counterpoint, I, 1944 pp.8-14). These imaginary flowers were associated with his thoughts about the war and the idea first came from seeing parachutes: ‘when the war overtook us I strained my eyes always to see that dreadful miracle of the sky blossoming with these floating flowers' (Aerial Flowers, quoted in Causey 1980, p.318).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, p.215